ACT Scores Still Suck

News is out about statewide ACT scores and it’s better, slightly, but still not very good.  I’m assuming that CPS scores come in even lower. Oh, and that recess thing Brizard announced last week isn’t quite all that it seemed to be.

Three of four state grads not ready for college, ACT scores show Sun Times: More than three-quarters of Illinois high school graduates aren’t completely ready for college, based on their ACT scores, state results of the college-admission test released Wednesday show.

Illinois students inch up ACT scores Tribune: Illinois’ Class of 2011 posted the highest average ACT score in a decade — 20.9 — but the performance fell below the national average and most graduates left high school unprepared for key college classes, data released Wednesday show….

Chicago Schools officials said recess already promised Tribune: CPS officials quickly said Brizard did not institute any new policy or mandate. He was simply reiterating a promise made under interim schools CEO Terry Mazany.

Local educators to rally in ‘Save our Schools’ march: Local educators will join thousands from around the country in rallying for public education in the nation’s capital on Saturday, at the ‘Save our Schools’ march.

School systems turn to energy conservation as budget saving measures: Going green appears to be helpful to lots of school systems around the country that are reaping big savings by turning off computers at night, turning off lights when no one is in the room, replacing oil gulping furnaces with energy conservation ones…

CTU argues for better – not longer – school days: With negotiations over rescinded teacher raises to resume next week, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis expounded Tuesday on her position regarding longer school days.

Coalition recommends first-ever nutrition and exercise standards for after school programs: A coalition of groups, including the Chicago-based national YMCA, has issued the first-ever comprehensive national nutritonal and physical activity guidelines for camps and after school programs.

More Illinois principals younger, female: More women are principals at Illinois schools and principals’ average ages have dropped over the last decade because baby boomers are retiring, according to a report released Monday by the Illinois Education Research Council.

Youth in motion – from Hip Hop to soccer Community News:  Young people get a lot of bad press, but with the support of community groups, many are seeking out positive paths in an increasingly difficult world.  Tomorrow two events – a hip hop festival and a soccer league gathering – highlight some of the alternatives.


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  • While I agree that ACT scores are not improving, I think we should look at the national context. First, only six states administer the ACT to all public high school 11th graders (see Of these states, all but Colorado rank lower than Illinois (Colorado and Illinois are basically tied). Comparison with states that do not test all of their students is questionable, since in those states only college-bound students are likely to take the test. This is a national problem.

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    I thought both the original article and the blog post were a bit off. The reply above is correct--IL ranks first or tied for first when we take into account testing of all students.

    For example, the Sun-Times article pushes the "bad news" that 3/4 of IL HS grads are "not ready for college". But the top scoring states only test 25% of their students. So they not only aren't "ready for college", they have no opportunity at all.

    Let's be blunt: comparing apples and oranges in this fashion is quite simply lying with data. Improper assessment leads to improper strategies of action. That hurts kids.

    Just stop cooking the data. Seriously. Just stop.

  • Isn't the issue more that our ACT scores suck? - not just comparatively, but in an absolute sense. ACT has benchmarks related to college-readiness, and although it is arguable whether all students need to be ready for college (given that some of them have other life goals), the content of the ACT in some way reflects students' ability to think critically, problem-solve, and have high-level content knowledge. Even if you are not going to college these seem like important skills to have after all those years of school.

    Despite raising ISAT scores, CPS has consistently failed to raise scores on the EPAS system, suggesting that for all the reforms, all the dollars, and all the programs claiming they are successful - as a whole we are not moving our students to have the level of knowledge they are likely to need to succeed in the economy of tomorrow.

  • As always the media reports do not pick up on some interesting aspects of stories. The Illinois ACT story by virtually every reporter focused on what appeared to be the low percentage of Illinois students prepared for college based on ACT scores. For example the Sun Times article was titled " Three of four state grads not ready for college, ACT scores show," the Tribune article was titled "Illinois students inch up ACT scores But only 23 percent ready for core college classes as marks lag behind national average." A reasonably close reading of both articles shows that students in Illinois are not that far from the national average and as Rosalind Rossi points out Illinois did better than the other states that mandated students taking the ACT.

    I for one do not think it is shocking at all that only 23% of Illinois high school graduates are fully prepared for college. While there have been some gains over the years, the bottom line measure of success is in relation to College admissions tests is college completion. The United States has still been unable to get more than 30 percent of young adults to earn a bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s. Fewer than one in three young people achieve the goal of being a college graduate. The situation of low income CPS graduates is far worse than the national average. According to the 2010 school report card the average CPS graduate met none of the college readiness bench marks, not even the 18 for English.

    College was never meant to be for everyone, especially if that graduate is poor and a minority student, or a student with a disability. The ACT report for Illinois gives some state wide data on ACT scores relative to all of those in Illinois who took the test. Let's look at where the average CPS graduate (based on 2010 data) sits relative to students in Illinois. The average CPS graduate got a 17.3 in reading, out of 144,469 Illinois students who took the ACT only 48,525 were reading at the level of the average CPS graduate or worse.

    When you look at the Illinois ACT scores and realize the admissions standards for the top tier schools in Illinois can require a composite ACT score of 27 and above (at U of I Urbana–Champaign 77% of admitted students have an ACT composite of 27 or above at Northwestern the vast majority of admitted students have ACT scores of 31 and above) and how few students score this high (in 2011 only 24,315 students in the state got a composite score of 27 or better) you realize how difficult things are for most CPS graduates.

    There is of course a reason for this, if more and more people could get a four year degree its economic value would drop. It is bad enough now with many new college graduates unemployed or employed in jobs not requiring a four year degree. The truth of the matter is most CPS graduates will not complete four years of college and get a BA or BS, but the majority of CPS high school seniors aspire to go to college.

    Fewer than 1% of CPS graduates with disabilities get a four year degree. My oldest disabled daughter had a composite ACT score of 16 when she graduated from CPS and that is very high for a student with a disability graduating from a CPS high school. She is one of the many CPS graduates who dropped out of college because they are overwhelmed by the academics. She even got tutoring and still could not make it, she said enough of studying and struggling, went to work for a hotel and of course got promptly laid off. On the other hand my non-disabled daughter who graduated from Payton and got those higher ACT scores went to U of I Urbana–Champaign and is now a senior with stellar grades and will likely go to graduate school in agricultural economics.

    We live in a harsh world based on competition, merit, and yes family wealth. While it is wrong to have low expectations for urban children, there are also realities they face and schools need to keep a balance between high expectations for students and expectations that are unrealistic given the society we are living in.

    Rod Estvan

  • Rod Estvan makes a very valid point, but I am more concerned about the path of education these days. Because of all the emphasis on testing and scores, students are not being given a well rounded education. The emphasis on creating "critical thinkers" is great, but it's pretty difficult to think critically when you have no basic core knowledge. I am appalled when talking to high school students how little they actually know about anything. Is there really anything wrong with learning and memorizing some basic facts? I truly believe that we need to go back to teaching kids some basic skills. the current style of education seems to produce kids who are jacks of all trades, but master of none!

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Agreed. Part of this problem is with the current obsession on preparing teachers in all manner of 'pedagogy' but without a strong focus on content knowledge. I've observed Algebra professional development where my paltry HS skills allowed me to solve equations that the majority of teachers in the room could not. I've sat in science classes where biology teachers admitted they don't understand some of the vocabulary they're presenting. This problem exists at both elementary and high school levels.

    We place so much emphasis in teacher prep programs on creating 'culturally responsive' teachers, teaching cooperative learning strategies, or how to tell if your students are 'pink' or 'orange' so you can differentiate based on their needs (no kidding folks), that we forget to make sure they're solidly grounded in the content. If you look closely, the majority of CPS teachers scored well below 20 on their ACTs and we don't provide much really good PD to make sure they have strong content knowledge. So how can we expect that they'll be able to help the students excel??

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    I really wish there was a like button here. So few people will address the content issue. All of the pedagogy in the world will not substitute for understanding. Without understanding, you cannot design and support students. Instead, you just present and pretend to teach.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Where can I find the report about CPS teachers' ACT scores? I would be interested in knowing more about that.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    It was pubnlished in the Pathways document CPS put out with the signposts about K12 benchmarks.

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    Data-driven only works if you know which way the data is driving...

    The data says that we are tied for first in the nation at access and at relative achievement.

    That's good right?

  • In reply to Xian Barrett:

    Kind of, but that's the same argument I used to get from the administrators at CPS, and I never bought it. "It's so great that more students are on-track", "It's so great that more students are graduating". Well yes, in a way it is. But test scores aren't budging even as students manage to earn more credits and eventually pass out of high school. I'm not comfortable with thinking that the role of education is to give students a high school diploma - I believe that the role of education is to teach students skills and content. To the extent that we fail to do that, simply passing them out of high school isn't very important to me. It's all about what you think the role of education is - and for me, it's not just about providing access. It's about learning.

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    In reply to Anonymous:

    That's not the argument I'm making. I don't think "it's great". Of course there is room for improvement. And I don't think the test scores are particularly important.

    But the powers that be have decided that they are supposed to be important and our careers and livelihoods depend on them. Regardless, there's no reason to lie about the data. We rank #1 in accessibility and #1 in achievement among the states that are even testing the kids in the first place. I don't think it's enough, but it's certainly a relatively "good" thing on the scale that has been imposed on us.

    The fact that people are still bludgeoning teachers for our #1 rating calls into question whether the point of the schools wasn't specifically to bludgeons us with them in the first place and there's no interest in students or their growth.

  • chicagomag's whet moser says not to worry -- the ACT standard is pretty high and sorta squishy and (as many of you have already pointed out) that every student in IL takes the test

  • jim broadway gives the downstate perspective, and laments the media's negative reaction

  • Tests

    The only thing a test measures are the people who wrote the test. The proper story
    Line should be 20% of Illinois students agree with the answers selected by a
    tests authors. As we all know most multiple choice questions have one wrong answer,
    one correct answer, and two maybes. Now the correct answer is a subjective compromise
    agreed upon by committee of cookie cutter people who have had remarkable similar
    experiences in their brief lives, with a college degree being the crowning achievement.
    I would like any contributor to one of these branding parties to let us know
    Abe Lincoln’s ACT score.

  • In reply to rbusch:

    Nice try, but since tests correlate with future success in various areas, they are more than idiosyncratic reflections of their makers. Students who do poorly on tests are also likely to do poorly in other areas. This isn't deterministic, and it isn't nearly a perfect predictor for any given individual (just on average), but what it tells us is that we're still doing a crappy job of having students leave high school with adequate knowledge to prepare them for the world.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    I have to agree that many of our schools are not doing a good job; however, past experience has shown that grades, rather than test scores, are the best predictor of success in college. Students who have risen to past expectations are more likely to rise to new expectations, even when they are substantially higher. Furthermore, standardized tests do a poor job of testing key skills required for college success. Writing is the clearest example of such a skill. There is some hope that the assessments that are being developed for the Common Core standards will do a better job of assessing core academic skills. They are also closely tied to college readiness standards, unlike the ISAT, which fails in this regard.

  • In reply to hcricks:

    Grades are a good predictor of success in college. But did you know that is less true for minority and free-reduced lunch students? In their case, ACT scores are actually a better predictor. Research has shown that who is getting the grade and who is giving the grade matter in terms of how useful they are for gauging knowledge and future success. Lower performing schools have lower correlations between grades and test scores. One potential reason for this is that these schools grade on attributes unrelated to educational behaviors, skills, or knowledge - such as showing up at all (since many of your classmates don't bother to appear), or sitting quietly in class (since many of your classmates are disruptive). Take a look sometime at how many students CPS has with 4.0 GPAs and an ACT score in the teens. We told them they were so smart, they were doing so well - and at the end of their high school career it turns out they only qualify for community college, if that, probably with remedial classes. In my mind that is a disservice.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Real World

    I guess my world is different .In my world success is measured by the
    amount of money you have, not your ACT score. In my world the heroes
    sell dope and peddle skin until a bullet or AIDS cuts them down ,which
    is just a part of the business. Tell a fifteen year old kid making three grand
    a week why college is important. Yes my world is different. And you didn’t
    answer my question about Honest Abe.

  • In reply to rbusch:

    I hope you do not believe 100% of your students are drug dealers. Maybe 10%, but nowhere near 100. Very few of the drug dealers make 3000, and those that do probably aren't spending a whole lot of time at school.

    There were no ACT scores in Abe's time, but we know he could read and write well enough that people still study his rhetoric.

    By the way, many of the test items are written by teachers and then tested by ACT. Go on their site. They continuosly solicit test items. You are putting down other teachers.

    And, by the way, the test matters to kids. Pull up a chair when they come to school crying because they thought they were getting 20s, and they really got 14 because in the REAL WORLD as you put it, the score makes a big difference.

  • ACT

    Yes I have known kids disappointed by their ACT score. I also know a whole lot of kids
    Who were surprised by getting a high score. One particular girl who four years ago
    Was floored by the score of 30 she got. High or low who cares? Does this test measure
    Attitude, or work habits, or sheer determination or even intelligence? No, it is a
    predictor of a person’s chances in college. The problem besides the test itself, is the
    recent use of its results to brand people for life. In an attempt to embarrass lots of
    folks someone wrote a story that claims most CPS teachers had a low ACT score. That
    alone helps invalidate the test because as a predictor of college success it was obviously
    incorrect. If 10 % of my kids were dope dealers the halls would run red with blood.
    The amount a kid can make dealing drug’s in a school is staggering. But only if one
    Gang has a monopoly in the building.

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